Review: Clayhanger

Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this …. and I almost did. Sadly though I realised that life is just too short for books as wordy as this.

We first meet Edwin Clayhanger as he starts his very last day at school. He’s an optimistic yet timid young man, who dreams of being an architect but doesn’t seem to have the will to do anything about his dream – or to stand up to his overbearing father. In the opening chapters of the book we learn a little about Edwin and his life; we meet his go-getting friend Charlie Orgreave, curiously nicknamed “The Sunday”; we also meet Edwin’s sisters, aunt Clara and his father, Darius. Darius was born into poverty and rescued from the workhouse by an old Sunday School teacher, who taught the boy to read and write and took an interest in his life thereafter. Darius is now successfully running a printing firm and the expectation is that Edwin will work for the family business – which he does, albeit grudgingly. Along the way Edwin meets The Sunday’s family, including the lovely Janet Orgreave and her “ugly” friend Hilda – both potential love interests for Edwin.

The beauty of this book is the long descriptions of everything and everyone. The downfall of this book – in my eyes – is the long descriptions of everything and everyone! This is a book in which nothing much ever happens, but that nothing is described in meticulous detail. Being a book of the Victorian period I was fully expecting this to use ten words where one would do, and it excels in that regard. I could put up with the wordiness for a while, and some scenes – especially the one where Edwin saves the family business from impending doom – raised a wry smile. On the other hand I was gnashing my teeth in frustration at the pages and pages dedicated to describing a centenary celebration of the Sunday School organisation. By the time I reached 45% of the book (I was reading it on Kindle) and had to endure two chapters whose sole purpose was to describe how Edwin had a building society savings plan that had just matured, so he could collect his dividend, my patience wore out and I had to abandon the book for fear of my own sanity.

I tried to enjoy this, I really did … but life is too short and full of other things I want to read to keep me bound to this one. Perhaps I’ll come back to it one day when I don’t have anything else to do … perhaps.


Having said all that I was intrigued about how it all ended. In my mind I could see Edwin, having seen off the advances of the rather traditional Janet, married to the mysterious Hilda and running the business following the death of his father. I had a read through the synopsis on Wikipedia and … ta daaaa I was right, that is how it ends! Except that there is a child involved, and a suggestion of bigamy. I admit that piques my interest slightly so one day ….

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